Stories of Refuge

Yesterday afternoon I ventured to Philadelphia and saw part II of Tania El-Khourey’s ear-whispered. Stories of Refuge is interactive; the participants lay in bunk beds, similar to what refugees would sleep on in camps, and you listen to their stories of refuge in Arabic. On the wall in front of the beds, you can see footage from the person speaking, with the English translations. There are three stories.

I’m speechless; while these stories brought me to tears, there is still hope for the living. Unlike in Gardens Speak where the dead tells us of their stories, there is still hope for the living. There is hope that they can become German residents, learn German, learn English, find love, raise children, that their children become healthy adults. And maybe, just maybe, they might be able to go back to Syria some day.

Before I left, I chatted with the gallery owner and discussed what I wrote above. She agreed; there is still hope for the refugees, and there is still hope that others will continue to help.

Last night before I caught the bus home, I ordered the photos for my Happiness Box, and as I was waiting for the pictures, the guys in front of me were speaking Arabic. I asked the one, “Arabic?” He nodded his head, yes, and we began talking in Arabic. They were from Lebanon. It’s indeed such a small world – we had a blast chatting for several minutes. They said my Arabic was pretty good. 🙂


Thankful Thursday 20 September 2018

Wow! It’s Thursday again already!? Today is my cousin’s 24th birthday and this morning when I woke up, I sent her a message. She lives in Washington, D.C. and replied, “Thank you for the birthday card you sent me! I’m having a birthday party tonight and I will open it with my other gifts.” I didn’t get her a gift, but hopefully, a card is just as thoughtful.


Well, my “tattoo” lasted into today and I am thankful for it! Now, after my shower, it’s almost gone… but I am reusing yesterday’s sentiment about love. I would like to thank my dear friend Tom for his beautiful comment yesterday – that made my morning. I’m careful about posting my Arabic/refugee project because someone at the library said, “refugees are evil, just ask those in Germany and Sweden.” I was stunned. However, my other friends thought my project was a beautiful sentiment as well. Grateful and I am still grateful that Bryn Mawr College and the Fringe Arts decided to showcase their work. Tomorrow I am seeing part II of El-Khoury’s work and I am excited.


Ms. Pat also gave me candy this morning so I could enjoy throughout the day. I am grateful for Ms. Pat; she is one of my older co-workers at my full-time job (retiree from an insurance company) and I am thankful she not only listens to me, but we can have a heart-to-heart about Motown and oldies.



What are you thankful for today?

Message to a Refugee Mini Project

I was surprised at how long my “tattoo” was staying and wanted to get a photo of it for my Happiness Box. I decided to write a special note about how our stories intertwine. I wrote “Ashway ma al-mustajir. Ana aklah ma al-mustajir” which translates into “I walk with the refugee. I cook with the refugee.” That’s what I did on day #1 and continue to do while the “tattoo” is still imprinted on me. Figured it might be an interesting way to practice Arabic. J


Unfortunately, tonight is the last night for the message since the “tattoo” most likely won’t be on my arm tomorrow. However, our stories still intertwine and I will continue to tell their stories.

I can’t wait to open these when I open my Happiness Box and scrapbooking them!

ear-whispered: works by Tania El Khoury

Last month as I stepped off of the train to head to my full-time job, I took a look at the magazine boxes to see if there was anything that interested me. I saw a catalogue for the Fringe Arts, a month-long arts festival in September in the Philadelphia Area. I devoured the magazine and bookmarked pages of performances that sounded interesting.

I was happy (and a bit shocked) to see that there was a performance in Arabic. Gardens Speak, an interactive piece by the artist Tania El Khoury, showcases the lives of ten Syrians who were killed in the early days of the uprising. There would be two Arabic performances on Saturday, 15 September at Bryn Mawr College.

I decided to go. While I’m not fluent in Arabic yet, I did study two years of Arabic as a student while attending West Chester University, and I wanted to immerse myself in the experience. I knew I wouldn’t understand it all, but I wanted to experience the words and learn. When I arrived, I let the staff and the artist know that I wasn’t totally fluent, and they gave me English directions too.

When it was time for the performance to begin, I was instructed in Arabic to take off my shoes and put on a raincoat. I picked a card with a tombstone that had an Arabic name. I went into the room with Sofia and Mohammed, two other participants, and we sat on a bench until we heard a sound coming from the garden.

As soon as we heard the sound, we had to walk to the garden and look for our corresponding card. I was a bit nervous since I am not fluent, and didn’t realize there was another row. Tania helped me a bit, and I found the corresponding grave. I was Ayat the Martyr. I dug the grave, and I had to the opportunity to hear her story. She was a revolutionary and one of the early protesters of the Syrian uprising. She died for her beliefs of a more peaceful country, and better opportunities for her children. It was haunting to hear the gunshots and chaos surrounding her death toward the end.

After the story finished, the card instructed us to rebury the black box, then lie on our backs in front of the tombstone. We listened to the story and took the place of the spirit below us. The call to prayer was then played, and like a funeral, Tania placed white flowers beside us. We were buried in the garden just like the stories we heard.

It is not uncommon for Syrian families to bury their loved ones in community gardens, holding a funeral is too, dangerous because the families would be attacked. These gardens are mass graves with simple markers. We represented these mass graves on the surface, but deep down we take on the life of those that have past. It’s indeed a powerful piece of art, and I know it gave me a deeper understanding of the horrors in Syria.

Before we left, we sat and reflected, then wrote a letter to the families corresponding to our martyr. After we were done writing, we had to bury the message; the letter will either be showcased in the exhibit or sent to Syria and will be buried with these graves.

After, I chatted with Sofia and Mohammed. Mohammed moved to the US from Egypt and he was saying in some cities in Egypt, the same things are happening. Especially after the Arab Spring. He was telling me about it, and I never realized that Egypt was pretty much in the same situation because it’s not talked about as much.

I had the opportunity to meet Tania, and I told her I admired her work; this was an excellent way of learning about the stories of other people. It was a powerful way of learning and empathizing. I also thanked her for helping a bit; she thanked me for coming and immersing myself in a language that I’m not fluent in. I told her I thought it was important; as an artist and writer, I like immersing myself in the language (and life) of my subject matter. She smiled, agreed because she does it herself. Although I was a bit shy, I enjoyed chatting with Tania.

There was another part of the ear-whispered works: As Far As My Fingertips Take Me. We sit in front of a wall, then we hear a rap song about the refugees’ journeys. As we are listening to the story, a refugee holds our hand and draws on it. Words can’t really describe the feeling, and after the story ended the refugee/ artist came out, and I had the chance to meet him.

I’m glad I went, and I am happy that the Fringe Arts included these moving pieces. In Philadelphia, Tania has another exhibit that showcases life in the resettlement camps. I’m thinking about going next Friday.

Friday Ice Skating 14 September 2018

A word before I proceed with ice skating…

…Yesterday after my full-time job, I decided to go to the Plymouth Meeting Mall because they still had an FYE store. I wanted to get more Mac Miller CDs; unfortunately, FYE was sold out of every Mac Miller CD except the new CD. I bought it, along with Alice Cooper (the cashiers loved my diverse tastes in music… I listen to everything).

I ordered Lyft to go to Michael’s Craft Store, where dad would pick me up. Plymouth Meeting is 20 minutes away from King of Prussia, and I had one of the best Lyft drivers! He was British, a handsome British lad, and we chatted the whole time. I’m glad he agreed to a selfie! (yep, it went into the Happiness Box…)



Last night I went ice skating, and it felt great to get back. I stayed near the wall, I will admit I am careful since the injury. I had a lot of fun and met some kind people. A young man and his neighbour were skating, the neighbour was teaching the young man, and we chatted for a bit because I thought that was so kind of the neighbour to do that. We were talking and I asked for a selfie for the Happiness Box; they were both really interested and loved the idea.


I’m thinking I’m slowly going to work to expand the project and make it into a small non-profit. I’ll have to plan… it seems like everyone likes the idea.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Art After 5 | Kwesik | 7 September 2018

On Friday night, I finally ventured to the art museum after a 2-month hiatus. In July, I was at the beach for Final Friday, then last week for Final Friday Made in America had everything blocked off. While Final Friday for September isn’t until 28 September, I thought I would pay a visit this past Friday.

I am so glad I did because Kwesik was performing. A soul, R&B singer based in L.A., Kwesik’s songs focus on freedom, justice, and finding one’s self in this world. I really wish I could post one of the videos I posted, but instead, I will post a few photos. I loved his sound and had the opportunity to meet him. I bought his EP and he was such a kind young man. I wish him all the best.


Before I left, I decided to visit the portrait gallery. Truman Capote was a good looking man! I’m a bit surprised.


All in all, it was a nice evening out… despite the rain.

Saturday Afternoon With Marsha

Today I met up with Marsha at the King of Prussia Mall. We had a nice lunch at Bonefish Grill. As we sat down to eat, she handed me a silver bag. I was surprised and as I was beginning to open the bag, Marsha handed me tea for the Keurig. I had a beautiful teacup and saucer – it was a pleasant surprise! Marsha and I had a delicious seafood meal and caught up, sharing laughs.
After lunch, we went to the Rock Shop and browsed for an hour. I picked up Mac Miller, in honour of his death, and I picked up Marilyn Manson as well. Marsha bought the Beatles.
We walked around the mall for a bit, chatted about music and shopping, then ran into Ronald. I introduced the two, we sat together and chatted with Ronald.
I am thankful for Marsha’s friendship. It was such a nice afternoon.
My Happiness Box. I have 3.5 months left and I feel confident I won’t have to resort to using the box top for notes/photos like last year. I am keeping it small for the next 3.5 months.

Verklempt Friday 7 September 2018

I love Gregg Whiteside of WRTI and I love WRTI as well. Every morning he hosts Breakfast With Bach and listeners can share their breakfasts, which Gregg will read on air. I know I talk a lot about gluten-free, but I do it to raise awareness. Apparently, I did because last Friday after Gregg read my breakfast on air (GF pumpkin spice waffles), someone e-mailed him to inquire about where I purchased the waffles. Gregg asked me, I told him I bought them at Wegmans; Wegmans and Trader Joes have the best selection of GF, and he thanked me.

These GF pumpkin spice waffles are my Friday fun day breakfasts. I try to do something special on Friday mornings. Last week I didn’t take a photo, so I e-mailed Gregg a photo today. He read it on air and added, “Jessica sounds like she has delicious Friday fun day breakfasts and all of the listeners have a fitting breakfast for Bach. We are a community and help each other out when it comes to breakfast items. Someone last week inquired about the gluten-free waffles, bought them, and absolutely loved them. Bach brings people together and we have a lovely community.”

This made me so happy to hear. Sometimes I feel like a pain with my diet, but I guess many others have similar restrictions. I’m thankful for Gregg, WRTI, and the kind people of our classical community.

Thankful Thursday 6 September 2018

WOW! September already! Hopefully, the temperatures will cool down soon and that the leaves will change colour for autumn…

…With that said, I am thankful for the thunderstorm that is blowing through now because it’ll cool things down. Tomorrow should only be 79. I can’t wait.

I have a lot to be thankful for today. While I was shelving books at the library, Sangeetha saw me and said, “guess who won the final summer raffle!?” I said her daughter’s name and she said, “It was you! You won the final staff raffle for the summer! A gift card to!” She gave me a big hug, then took my photo. It was such a pleasant surprise – my second raffle wins this year. I’m so thankful for the library and that they offer these raffles to our staff. We have them for the public, this year the director decided to do something for us too. Grateful!


I’m also thankful for Kathleen at my full-time job. She is a good ear and shoulder; one of the few people I trust. Although my manager and I have a fiery relationship, I am thankful for her reaching out to the former technical writer today to see if there are still any needs for them. We talked for an hour about my goals and I am grateful she listened.
What are you thankful for?